A well-timed Venus flyby looks for signs of life in the clouds

Just weeks after the reported discovery of phosphine on Venus – a potential sign of life in the clouds above its hellish surface – a robot spacecraft will study the planet as it swings by on its exploration of the solar system.

The BepiColombo space probe’s flyby above Venus at two minutes before midnight ET Wednesday is a coincidence.

The “gravity slingshot” was planned years ago, long before astronomers detected traces of phosphine in the Venusian atmosphere.

But it’s the first spacecraft to get near Venus since the discovery – although probably not the last – and measure gases in the planet’s atmosphere.

“We will look at what we see in the data, and look for everything – the expected and the unexpected,” said Jörn Helbert of the German Aerospace Center’s Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin, who works on a BepiColombo instrument called the Mercury Radiometer and Thermal Infrared

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PM Update: Breezes wane into a cool overnight, and clouds increase Thursday

Through tonight: Breezy conditions will persist through sunset, but winds are slowly diminishing. They will calm more substantially later on. The cool and clear conditions of this evening will stick around much of the night. We should see winds die off with the sunset, which will help temperatures falling to the 50s feel generally comfortable. Lows will range from near 50 to the upper 50s.

Tomorrow (Thursday): It will be another good-looking day. Sunshine will be plentiful through midday before clouds build during the afternoon. Any rain chances should hold off until after dark. Highs will be in the low and mid-70s. Winds will be from the southwest, around 5 to 10 mph.

Pollen update: Mold spores are high. Tree, grass and weed pollen is low.

Rain: Precipitation totals were mostly on the light side of the forecast around here last night. As suggested by some of the high-resolution models

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In Venus’ clouds there’s phosphine. Phosphine stinks. But its discovery lifts my heart.

A computer-processed image of Venus first captured by NASA's Mariner 10 spacecraft in 1974. The contrast-enhanced version, right, makes features in the planet's thick cloud cover visible in greater detail. <span class="copyright">(NASA / JPL-Caltech)</span>
A computer-processed image of Venus first captured by NASA’s Mariner 10 spacecraft in 1974. The contrast-enhanced version, right, makes features in the planet’s thick cloud cover visible in greater detail. (NASA / JPL-Caltech)

Hazy and noxious clouds obscure the hot land below. Here in Utah, as I write, distant wildfires have turned the sky a monochromatic opal. In a time of unrest, plague and rising fear of science, joy is hard to find. Consolation, if it comes, is the sweet call of a bird, a favorite, a northern flicker above maple-red woods.

And when it’s clear, Venus, in the morning sky like a gem.

I’ve been thinking about the hazy, noxious clouds on Venus for the past few days because in its hellish sky there’s something called phosphine. Phosphine stinks. But its discovery lifted my heart.

Life is resilient. Recently, scientists revived 100-million-year-old microbes from deep ocean sediments. Another study

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The science behind fire clouds, fire thunderstorms, and fire tornadoes

Weather and wildfires share a close relationship. Certain weather conditions are known to ignite wildfires: High temperatures and low humidity dry out the landscape, lightning strikes can spark a flame, and fast-moving winds spread flames across nearby desiccated land.

But wildfires also spawn their own weather systems, including pyrocumulonimbus clouds—which NASA has called the “fire-breathing dragon of clouds” for the thunderbolts they hurl at Earth, fueling further blazes and sometimes even fire tornadoes.

Fire weather has contributed to the scale of several historic conflagrations, including the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires that burned more than a million acres across Australia, and the wildfires across the West Coast of the United States in 2020. Here’s what causes firestorms—and why they’re becoming more common in a warming world.

How firestorms get started

Firestorms form through a convective process, in which heat rises through the air. When a column of moist air over a

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